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Families share their dreams

June 27, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Eight members of the Jenkins family of Hagerstown were at Saturday's Dream Come True picnic, but their fun had a limit: Something - rather, someone - was missing.

Brittany was 8 when she died of complications from a kidney transplant on Jan. 20, 2003. Cancer took both of her original kidneys.

A few years before she died, Brittany and her family went to Walt Disney World in Florida and got to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse, her favorites.

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Dream Come True, a local nonprofit organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, paid for the trip.

"Her first and last real wish came true," said Lisa Jenkins, Brittany's mother.

Despite their loss, the Jenkinses felt a need to join other Dream Come True families at Antietam Recreation off Garis Shop Road, south of Hagerstown, for Saturday's annual picnic.

Sisters Jennifer, 17, Julena, 14, Jessica, 14, Lisa, 12, Kimberly, 9 and Tiffany, 8, played on swings, rode a pony and took in the warm summer air.

Jennifer, Tiffany and Kimberly hadn't yet joined the family when the Jenkinses went to Walt Disney World, their mother said.

David Jenkins, Brittany's father, said he's grateful to Dream Come True and wished that more wealthy people knew about it and donated to it.

"This means the world to these kids," he said.

To Michael Martinez, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled. That was who he yearned to see when he picked his Disney trip about nine years ago.

"To me, it was just a chance to not be in that hospital," said his mother, Sherry Reed of Hagerstown.

Michael was 4 when he developed a tumor attached to the nasal passage under his left eye, his mother said. It was rhabdomyosarcoma, which the National Cancer Institute defines as a young person's cancer of the bone, soft tissue or connective tissue.

"It's like my whole world was taken away," she said.

Reed said that Michael's type of cancer carries a life expectancy of five to eight years. But he had chemotherapy and radiation treatment and his cancer is in remission.

As she stood near the pony trail with Michael's sisters, Jameeka, 8, and Letrice, 10, Reed said Michael - who was inside shooting baskets - went blind in his left eye from the radiation.

But, now, he has 20/30 vision with glasses. He soon will have reconstructive facial surgery.

"So, he's my little hero," Reed said.

Paula Stout of Smithsburg watched her daughters, Kaelii, 10, and Regan, 7, take turns swinging across a creek on a rope. She knew both would like a little spin on their rope rides, even if they said no at first.

Dream Come True gave Kaelii, who has cystic fibrosis, and her family a Disney cruise about three years ago. The best part, she recalled, was a Mickey Mouse water slide.

Each day, Kaelii must shake loose mucus from her chest and take medication.

Saturday evening, a whoosh above the water pushed her medical problems aside. Regan said she enjoyed her ride, too.

Dream Come True - which is not connected to the well-known Make-a-Wish Foundation, but is similar - was founded in 1986.

Dream Come True's clients are 3 to 18 years old, board member Beth Stull of Waynesboro, Pa., said.

"It's really rewarding," said Terry Papoutsis of Waynesboro, who also volunteers with the organization.

A Disney trip is a popular wish, along with a new computer, Stull said.

Papoutsis said Dream Come True has helped, or is about to help, 107 families.

As she scanned the list, she noticed a few Dream children who had died. But she noted that others are still living, well beyond what was expected.

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